Desert Isle Keeper
All You Need
Lorelei James is a familiar voice to many in the erotic and contemporary romance world, having published more than sixty books in the last ten years. While I’d heard of her, I hadn’t actually read any of her books until this one. All You Need is a sports romance with a fairly typical plot idea – a bad boy hockey player needs a reputation makeover and who better to accommodate him than a PR expert? What the blurb doesn’t tell you is that once you read this story you’ll immediately want to read the preceding stories in the series, and possibly everything on Ms. James’ backlist. From the very first chapter until the absolutely delightful ending, every part of this contemporary romance clicked with me.
The Need You series is centered on the Lunds, a wealthy and successful Swedish family who live in Minneapolis. There are four siblings, each of whom will have a standalone romance in the series, and this third installment is about Annika, a public relations agent for her family business, Lund Industries. The first time she meets Axl is at a chic restaurant, welcoming him to Minnesota on behalf of her cousin Jaxon, a former teammate of Axl’s in Chicago before he was acquired by the Minnesota Wild. He doesn’t speak much English so she’s there partly as a translator, though he clearly doesn’t need her language abilities to maneuver their waitress into a compromising position in the coat check room. Axl’s agent, Peter, wants Annika to take Axl on as a client and reform his playboy image, but she isn’t interested and turns him down. But under the steadfast nagging of her mother who wants Peter to be Annika’s brother Jensen’s new agent, she reluctantly agrees. She’ll use her skills to try to turn Axl’s reputation around, and Jensen will get his new agent. Win-Win.
Annika and Axl start out with some clearly antagonistic feelings about each other. Axl refers to Annika as Attila and in return she calls him Ax-hell or Ax-hole. Annika needs Axl to follow some rules to keep a low profile and out of the media spotlight and when she catches him at a club doing the exact opposite, her anger results in a very public scene. The result is a claim that spreads like wildfire on social media that Annika’s behaviour was caused by jealousy because she is Axl’s new girlfriend. Peter thinks it’s the perfect set up. If Annika will keep up the pretense, Axl’s bosses will be convinced that he’s focused on his hockey career and reforming his scandal plagued media image. In return for Annika pretending to be in this fake relationship, Axl will help out with any charity work she is involved in. For the sake of her brother’s career, Annika can’t really refuse. But what really frustrates her is the current of sexual attraction that ripples between her and Axl. He is nothing like the men Annika dates. He’s an uncouth, boorish hockey player who’s too attractive for his own good. Only as they get to know each other, Annika discovers that the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ might just apply to this man, too. Is it possible that she’s actually found her perfect match?
I love being surprised by an author, and I don’t just mean because of an unexpected plot twist. You think you know how this story will go from the start, that Axl will be converted from player to committed boyfriend by his growing affection for Annika. That’s not the story here. Instead, what you get is a male character who is so much more than the reputation that precedes him, a reputation that while true, has been designed to be a certain way. Appearances are Annika’s game as a PR expert, and even she is fooled at the start. There are layers to Axl that get revealed from chapter to chapter until at the end you’ve got a man who deserves pride of place on your book boyfriend shelf. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because it’s so much fun to discover Axl’s real character the way that Annika does. Telling the story from both points of view is essential to how the plot unfolds and I definitely appreciated it here.
As a sports romance with an emphasis on the game of hockey this definitely scores with me too. The author is familiar with the sport and does an admirable job of including scenes both on and off the ice. The reality of player reputations, contract negotiations, and press interactions are balanced with the physical on-ice play and Axl’s personal challenge to find a place for himself on his new team. I don’t know the author’s future plans, but I’d love to see a spinoff series with some of Axl’s hockey teammates getting stories of their own.
Annika’s family interactions are also an important part of this story, not surprising since the series is based on her and her siblings. The Lund family has connections all over Minneapolis, and with her brother Jensen playing football for the Minnesota Vikings they have a sizable stake in the community. Annika, while being a hardworking businesswoman, is also involved in the charity arm of the company and doesn’t mind getting down to the grassroots level herself to make things happen. She comes across as a passionate woman in everything she does, with a family loyalty that transcends everything else. Suffice it to say, her brothers are not particularly keen on her ‘relationship’ with Axl, knowing his reputation. This creates some tension, because Annika doesn’t like keeping secrets from her siblings but can’t reveal the truth behind their agreement. There are some quite touching and emotional scenes later in the story as some plot twisting events occur that impact the whole family.
The romance between Annika and Axl is simply delightful. The uncovering of Axl’s true personality leads to a bond of trust between them as they share meaningful conversations and truly intimate moments. The sexual tension builds and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this is a slow burn romance. There is no hopping in the sack from the beginning to ‘take the edge off’ as one might expect. Axl is a hero in pursuit (my favorite kind!), wooing Annika in such a way that it would be impossible not to fall for him. The sex scenes in this story are hot but not super explicit – the dirty talking is kept to a minimum (which I’ll admit is a nice change) and there is a bigger emphasis on the feelings they are developing for each other than on a play by play of their bedroom scenes.
Of course, there has to be some conflict that makes you wonder how this couple can get their happy ending but it happens in an organic way and suits the story well. I can tell you that the ending made me clap my hands over my mouth and laugh in delight, it’s that good. All You Need is exactly the kind of story I want when I read a contemporary romance – laughs, a few tears, strong likable characters, an interesting and well executed plot, sexy scenes and a sweet happy ending. I’m already planning a re-read!